Monthly Archives: March 2016

2006 Providence (Pomerol) and 1982 Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse

My friends Ian Amstadt and Maureen Keer came to visit from London (put their car on the Eurostar and drove down to Bordeaux).
Sharing the same love of fine wine, we wasted no time in getting down to brass tacks…



Having enjoyed Mumm Rosé just a few days ago, I thought it would be nice to open a Bollinger Rosé. The story here is that the négociant Millésima had a tasting with 27 Champagne producers not long ago with such houses as Krug, Dom Pérignon, etc. I went there with my wife who, realizing that it was impossible to taste everything, thought she would focus on rosé and nothing else. Tasting all evening, she found Bolly to be best.
As much as I liked the Mumm, the Bollinger was more suave and subtle. A really elegant drink and a great aperitif.



Ian had opened a bottle of wine the day before and not finished it. So used his Vacuvin, brought it with him, and we tasted it with a platter of delicatessen meats.
I enjoyed the 2007 Barolo “Cerequio” from Michele Chiarlo, but am unfamiliar with the category, so my comments are not very knowledgeable. This 9 year-old wine had a lovely, still quite purple color and an intriguing subtle, smoky nose of sour cherry. The wine was big (14.5% alcohol) and a little raisiny, but had an attractive tartness that makes these wines go so well with food.

Aside: Wine lovers are inevitably food lovers. And some of the world’s best foods are the simplest (foie gras, truffles, oysters, certain cheeses, etc.). The right kind of free range chicken slowly roasted is in this category. Not to put too fine a point on it, chicken frequently sucks in the US, UK, and other countries, where it is a mass produced product with little flavor. God bless France, where roast chicken can be delightful, and suitable to just about any wine on earth (forget about “white wine with white meat…”).

The first wine to go with the bird was 2006 Providence.
Providence (one word, no mention of the name château) is an estate in Pomerol that was previously called Château la Providence. It was acquired in 2005 by Jean-Pierre Moueix. There are just under 3 hectares of vines, located between the church and Château Hosanna, which also belongs to Moueix.
Grape varieties are 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.
This is a rare bottle because not only is production small, but Providence ceased to exist after the 2012 vintage, when the wine began to be incorporated into Ch. La Fleur-Pétrus.
2006 Providence had a deep dark color just starting to brown a little on the rim. The nose was fresh, definitely oaky, and plummy, showing the sort of ripeness one associates with a hot climate country. The wine was fairly sexy on the palate with creamy, vanilla overtones and a rich melt-in-your-mouth texture. This is the obvious, crowd-pleasing sort of wine the Right Bank excells in. It is fine to drink now, and will be equally fine, in a different way, for years to come. Openness at an early age is one of Pomerol’s chief assets.


The next red wine was 1982 Château Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse.
This is one of 18 premiers grands crus classés in Saint Emilion (14 in the B category and 4 in the A category). It is also the smallest. The 6.3 hectare estate is planted with 76% Merlot and 24% Cabernet Franc and has been owned by the same family for seven generations. It has long been confused with another premier cru, Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot, who added a hyphen to try to simply things…
Although Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse is in a prime location, the wines have had a checkered history. Things have recently been taken in hand by a management team consisting of Stéphane Derenencourt and Nicolas Thienpont, also responsible for winemaking at two other premiers crus: Larcis Ducasse and Pavie Macquin.
Anyway, as we all know, 1982 has a great reputation in Bordeaux, which this wine pretty much upheld. The color looked far younger than its years, with lovely nuances. The nose featured complex aromas of ash, talc, mushroom, and cherry preserves. There was also an old, ethereal side expressed in floral overtones. The wine started off round on the palate, going on to reveal velvety tannin, but also marked acidity on the finish. In my opinion, it started coming down from its plateau a few years ago, but is still vital and very enjoyable.



We ended the meal with a 2007 Burmester Late Bottled Vintage Port. This had an unbelievably intense color, an equally youthful and intense nose, and the taste of a fine young vintage rather than a 9 year-old LBV. This was a fairly spirity and vigorous Port. Does one age LB? I’d be tempted to do so if I had another bottle of this…


2000 Malartic Lagravière, 96 Haut-Bailly, 81 Martha’s Vineyard & 58 Ausone


A friend came down to visit from Paris, so this was a great opportunity to invite some other friends over to enjoy a wine dinner.

The aperitif was Mumm rosé. I was surprised by this wine for three reasons. First of all, by the dryness. Many mainstream bruts have perceptible residual sugar. But not here. Second, as opposed to many rosé Champagnes, you could actually taste the tannin on the finish, and this was very attractive. This was a rosé with attitude. Third, the quality was much better than one might expect from a huge producer. So, this was an altogether pleasurable experience.



The first red wine of the evening was 2000 Malartic-Lagravière. To the amazement of my Bordeaux-loving friends, I have found many of the 2000s open for business. However, I must admit that this Malartic was still a little too young. It was also delicious and the wine of the evening.

It had a lovely dark core and the rim is just starting to show some brown.
The nose was wonderful, with hints of lead, leather, truffle, humus, and matchstick. There were also subtle coffee and blueberry aromas. The bouquet was really very elegant, complex, and seductive.
The wine was only slightly less good on the palate, with a texture that was unctuous, but not thick. In fact, it reminded me so much of a good Pomerol that I checked Malartic’s Merlot content in the Féret: 45%. The château’s round, sensual side was there in spades along with a welcome touch of tartness. The tannin on the aftertaste was reminiscent of tea, and showed that 2000 Malartic-Lagravière will have more to offer in the coming years.  I might add that Malartic represents tremendous value for money. A class act that won’t break the bank… The Bonnie family have another Pessac-Léognan, Ch Gazin-Rocquencourt, that is also well worth investigating.



Next up was 1996 Haut-Bailly. Curiously, this seemed younger than the previous wine. The color was beautiful and vibrant, and there were still bright purple highlights. On color alone, I would never have taken this wine to be 20 years old.
The nose was very deep, with brambly, lilac and, once again (like Malartic) truffle nuances. There was a dark, brooding side to the bouquet, as well as ethereal, powdery notes.
96 Haut-Bailly was less giving on the palate than the Malartic. It had high-quality textured tannin, but also a tight side that time will certainly soften to some extent, but never completely. There were attractive cherry and briary aromatics, but the wine is just too restrained.

The next two wines were served blind.


The 1981 Martha’s Vineyard had just come from Paris that day, so it was a little cloudy. The color was light with purple highlights. The nose showed plummy, blackcurrant, and biscuity aromas. The wine had lovely balance on the palate and sweet candied fruit flavors. There was nevertheless a certain hotness on the aftertaste. People were a little destabilized as to the wine’s origin and several guessed Châteauneuf-du-Pape. That does not surprise me because I have often thought that many California Cabernets resemble good Rhone Valley wines more than they do Bordeaux.
This thirty-five year old wine proves, to any who doubted, that California can indeed produce fine wines with good ageing potential. This 1981 certainly seemed much younger than its years. Martha’s Vineyard is an iconic Napa Valley Cabernet produced since 1966. It corresponds to the American version of a grand cru and this wine confirms that reputation. Bordered by eucalyptus trees, the vineyard is sometimes said to reflect their odor, although none of us were able to perceive this.
If we can get beyond the dilemma of comparing apples and oranges, Martha’s Vineyard this evening was in the same league as the two Pessac-Léognan great growths.

 The last wine was 1958 Château Ausone (no photo, the bottle had no label, but the capsule and cork were authentic). What can I say – other than to thank my friend for bringing such a rare wine (as well as the Heitz). This 58-year-old Ausone was like a dream, a shadow of its former self, as reflected in the dark, but obviously extremely old color. There were vaporous aromas of charred wood, burnt rubber, and rose petals on the nose. The wine showed searing acidity on the palate, as well as subtle tertiary (you might even say quaternary!) notes. 1958 has an execrable reputation, and this wine would have been better some time ago, but it was still wonderful to drink a bit of history, and a fine end to the evening.



2000 Château Haut-Bages Libéral

There’s a saying going back many years that “Lynch Bages is the poor man’s Mouton”, although the former’s rise in quality – and price – make this a little less true nowadays… 
Some witty person later added: “… and Haut Bages Libéral is the poor man’s Lynch Bages”!

Half of Haut Bages Libéral borders on Château Latour and the other half is just behind Château Pichon Baron. From the 1960s until the early 80s, this thirty-hectare 5th growth Pauillac was owned by the Cruse family, and then acquired by the Villars family. Claire Villars Lurton is now at the helm.



We all know about the year 2000 and the speculative fever it induced. I have always liked the wines, but do not agree with people who think the great growths need “decades to age”. On the contrary, my experience has showed that sixteen years down the line many of them are well within their drinking window. So, wondering what wine to serve with a leg of New Zealand lamb I decided to open a bottle of Haut Bages Libéral, which has the reputation of being a reliable if unexciting wine.

Well, I must say I was underwhelmed. The color looked older than its years. The nose was really very muted, but if you looked hard you could discern cherry, briar, humus, graphite, and cigar box aromas. The wine had a thin oily mouth feel and a wimpish aftertaste. I’m all for subtlety, but not to the point where this is the shadow of what a great growth Pauillac in a good year should be. This 2000 Haut Bages Libéral would unquestionably have been better years ago to all but the most hard-bitten adepts of old tertiary Bordeaux. And I’m willing to bet even they would be disappointed with this wine.

I’ve tasted more recent vintages of Haut Bages Libéral and think the estate is on the upswing. However, as a consumer, I will make sure to drink mine on the young side from now on.